This is one of the most common topics I get asked about - safe and natural laundry solutions.
It's one of those topics that we usually don't think too much about until we have to, because laundry is just an everyday and fairly unexciting part of life. We'll often just buy what's on special or what we've always bought - but dealing with eczema means having to investigate pretty much everything that comes into contact with our bodies and in my experience, there is a significant chance that your chemical based (and even many 'natural') laundry detergent is a significant trigger. When my daughter first had eczema, none of the doctors we consulted with raised the topic of laundry or anything else related back to our household or environment - only creams and scripts - but I began to put two and two together when I noticed some of her eczema presented where her clothes sat against her skin. Eczema is an inflammation of the skin that presents with either chronic or periodic flares of dry and itchy skin which is more prone to infection. My approach to this symptom is a holistic, multi-factorial one that respects there are usually no magic pills or potions but rather a series of consistent choices that can help you understand, manage or even resolve it. We want to be mindful not of only what we put in our bodies but also what we put on or near our skin given that it is our largest organ after all, working closely with our other organs especially our livers and digestive system to support balanced immunity. Most of us are in close proximity to laundered materials pretty much 24/7. Even if you're a fan of sleeping nudey styles, you're still lying on sheets that get washed in detergent so there is going to be cumulative residue that sits right against your skin, and this is a contributor we have to consider. Those synthetic cleaning agents include ingredients to fight stains and help give you soft, clean clothes that have a fragrance but can also result in skin irritation and dryness. I'm a big advocate for helping families live genuinely low-toxin and that means finding the most skin friendly products there are. So what's the best option for sensitive skin? Well I'm glad you asked! Making your laundry more skin friendly is a great thing to do not just for eczema but also overall wellbeing, so let's get going!
I'm super happy you're rethinking your laundry detergent. Many are extremely alkaline and contain ingredients that often trigger inflammation which is not what we want. Going natural can often mean doing laundry a little differently though as natural products tend to be less strong which is good for eczema but not always great for stains:
Pre-soak! This can dramatically improve results.
If you've been using chemical products for a while, do a hot wash with a little vinegar to help clean the machine, and minimise existing residue.
Try not to overload your machine - good water flow and agitation help a lot.
They're not always going to give that synthetic fragrance smell you may be used to (this is a good thing) - adding a few drops of essential oils can help for scent.
Choose the right cycle.
Choose natural fibres wherever possible such as cotton, bamboo, silk and hemp.
Use oxygen bleach for brighter whites and colours.
If you have eczema, putting emu oil, tallow or shea butter on your skin before getting dressed can help act as a bit of a barrier between your body and your clothes.
I've always preferred washing in hot water that is at least over 60 degrees centigrade which also helps to kill bacteria and dust mites which can also be irritants.
Wash brand new clothes before you wear them! This is really important.
Nothing beats the smell and freshness of clothes dried outside but if you/your child is pollen sensitive, best to dry on a clothes rack indoors or using the dryer.
Find what's right for you. Just as there is no single topical product that will help everyone with eczema, it's the same with laundry solutions.
Making the Switch. What to Get Instead?
I don't actually advocate for any supermarket brands, because in my experience, they are still problematic! When I first switched our household to an ecofriendly product belonging to a brand that is hugely popular in New Zealand, both my husband and I developed dry itchy skin - and we didn't even have a history of eczema! It stopped as soon as I did some research and switched to a genuinely natural laundry product. While I commend those efforts in giving kiwis more options and love the fact they are cruelty free, for eczema I do wholeheartedly believe we have to move away from the supermarket.
In saying that there is one thing I'd suggest from the supermarket as a place to start - washing soda crystals. They are cheap, accessible and typically skin friendly however are not usually the best solution for tough stain removal. They can also be mixed with borax to make a simple home made laundry detergent.
Here are some natural laundry solutions tried and tested by ME that you may want to consider. We're not a family that does a lot of things that can result in heavy stains or odours so do keep this mind!
These are popular due to being a sustainable, biodegradable and natural resource that grows wild with the dried fruit producing saponin (soap) which helps to clean and soften. Extremely gentle, they are perfect for those with eczema/allergies or who are sensitive to synthetic ingredients. In my experience they can be a little fiddly and may not be strong enough for all stain and scent situations but are a good place to start. Buy Soap Nuts here
This is my personal fave - it works great, smells amazing and is incredible value. The US mum who created it did so because her daughter Molly was stillborn in 2005. She began to research the topic and discovered there were 80,000 chemicals approved for use in humans, but not at all had been tested for human safety, so took on the responsibility to educate and make a difference. Molly’s little footprints are on the packaging to show their products are safe for even our tiniest family members.
Buy Molly's Suds here (save 5% with code GVJ251)
This is fragrance-free, safe and soft for baby. Made from castile soap, washing soda and baking soda there is enough in one bag for 33 washes. Use only 1 tbsp per wish with no chemical residue and can be used in cold water and front loaders.
Zum Herbal Liquid (smells divine!) Zum Lullaby Laundry Soap for Babies Nellie’s Baby Laundry Molly’s Sports Wash Stain Remover Castile Soap Whitening Pods Wool Dryer Balls Fabric Softener Liquid Castile Soap I also really like what these New Zealand based suppliers are doing, have successfully used their products and suggest you check them out as well! Figgy & Co